The FAQs and the Facts
In the modern world, companion animals are less able to attend to their own needs than are humans. The companion animals have a lesser mental capability, cannot rationalize or learn on a level with humans, and therefore cannot adequately understand many aspects of todays artificial environment in which they live. Companion animals cannot read, write or otherwise communicate in a word-based language as can humans, and therefore cannot articulate physical/behavioral problems which they will invariably develop sometime during their life-cycle. They age much more rapidly than do humans, and in some cases have a life expectancy that is only ten percent of humans. Due to these factors, companion animals accept the entire spectrum of health, from excellent to poor, as just a normal part of life. When this scenario is coupled with the fact that owners are unprepared to assess a companion animals physiologic and psychologic condition, the real need for veterinary medical exams to be conducted regularly becomes readily apparent.
An annual exam is the most cost-effective medicine available for a companion animal. It is preventive medicine in its truest form. It is one of the most meaningful proactive measures an owner can undertake. Not only does it provide early detection of possible serious illnesses, but it serves as an opportunity to immunize the companion against certain diseases and eliminate parasites which are known to compromise health.
Annual exams furnish an owner with the knowledge and insight to ensure health. The attending veterinarian provides information specifically tailored to an individual companion animal's condition. Annual exams provide an owner with the opportunity to review important healthcare elements diet, general hygiene, behavior, breed propensities, environmental hazards, travel, and injury prevention which are designed to make the lives of the companion and his or her family more meaningful and enjoyable. Annual exams are undoubtedly the best investment owners can make for their companion animals.
Because you are a responsible owner and care about the long-term health and welfare of your companion animal in particular and companion animals in general. Only a select group of professional breeders who are totally committed to fostering the genetic integrity of their selected breed can, on a calculated basis, justify not spaying or neutering certain companion animals in their charge. All other owners who are adverse to the procedure should reconsider their objections. There is simply not a legitimate reason for the typical owner to not spay or neuter their companion animal, but many ill-conceived, perceptually myopic, or out-right false notions abound for not doing so.
Myth Spay/neuter surgeries are complicated and painful to companion animals.
Fact Advances in veterinary anesthesia, surgical techniques,and pain management make spay/neuter procedures as safe and discomfort-free as possible. These common procedures often do not even entail an overnight stay.
Myth Spay/neuter surgeries are just another expense for an owner and more revenue for veterinarians.
Fact Opting for a spay/neuter surgery can easily save an owner five to ten times the amount actually expended on the surgery through fewer medical costs associated with their companion animals future healthcare. Reduced incidences of accidents and injury due to roaming, fighting, and cancer translate into savings. And, veterinarians themselves believe so much in the value of these surgeries to the animal itself that spay/neuter procedures are always among the most economically priced procedures a veterinarian performs.
Myth A companion animal will be less of a male or female if spayed or neutered.
Fact Only a small percentage of behavior is hormonally motivated, and most of those behaviors are undesirable in companion animals roaming, fighting, marking territory. Physical characteristics which are affected by hormones can be preserved based on age at time of neutering. Spay/neuter procedures performed on very young companion animals may change physical characteristics of the adult to be, so discussion with a veterinarian about best age of spay/neuter procedures is advisable.
Myth Spay/neuter procedures will adversely affect a companion animals personality.
Fact Personality is actually preserved by spay/neuter as personality becomes more predictable after these procedures. The drive to seek a mate for reproduction will be eliminated, but in all other respects their personalities will be little changed. In fact, since sexual behavior is learned, a late neutered individual might actually not stop seeking mates.
Myth Companion animals who are spayed or neutered have a tendency to become obese.
Fact As in people, there are some physiologic and hormonal reasons for obesity. However, the vast majority of overweight companion animals are obese exclusively as the result of caloric consumption from the indulgence of humans to the excess of that needed or used.
Myth As a life lesson, children should experience the birth of puppies/kittens.
Fact If a family desires their children to experience birth, a professionally produced video tape with an appropriate narrative is the best educational medium. A medium which does not produce new lives for which the family has created a life responsiblity.
First, it unbalances their diets. Second, it fosters the behavior of table-side begging which is generally a nusiance behavior. Third, it encourages obesity.
Eating is as much a joy for companion animals as it is for people. But since commercially manufactured dog or cat food is nutritionally balanced, no other food is needed for nutrition. Other food fed is almost exclusively done so to satisfy the emotional needs of their owners in the form of treats or table scraps.. But when owners feed table scraps, i.e., food they choose not eat themselves, a companion animals diet becomes unbalanced. Food supplemented to an already balanced diet leads to the #1 health problem in companion animals obesity. And, the additional food unbalances the already balanced nutriton the companion animal is receiving. Further, if the supplemental food is foreign to the digestive system and contains many of the artificial elements required to make food taste good to humans, the result to companion animals is often gastrointestinal distress vomiting or diarrhea.
Companion animals, uninfluenced by advertising media, like their regular food on a regular basis. Their normal high-quality commercial food is composed of ingredients which companion animals have a keen sensory capability to appreciate. If owners want to include food rewards awarded at specific times or for specific reasons, the best practice is to withhold a certain amount of the mealtime ration for such times so as to be as psychologically rewarding for the companion as it is for the owner. And, its more healthy for the companion.
The final benefit is no table-side beggars!
You should generally feed food formulated for your specific species of healthy companion animal that is a premium diet and is labeled as complete and balanced by AAFCO. AAFCO is an acronym for the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which is a non-profit organization that sets standards for both animal feeds and pet foods in the United States.
Premium food is better and surprisingly economical because it is more digestible than "supermarket brands." And since it is more digestible, there is less fecal material to deal with latter on. Foods touted as super premium, ultra premium, organic, holistic, etc., essentially are marketing ploys with no regulation by any official organization and offer little to no benefit over major premium brands available from such major animal food companies as Hills (Colgate-Palmolive), Royal Canin (Mars, the candy company), and Iams/Eukanuba (Proctor & Gamble).
Admittedly, companion animals, like people, occasionally have special health needs which require specific diets. That being the case, major animal food companies offer a comprehensive selection of veterinary diets for these special situations.
To learn more about dog/cat food click HERE for an article that was previously published in The Washington Post.
For the very same reason you brush your own teeth to have a healthy mouth. Brushing a dogs or cats teeth greatly reduces the amount of food debris and bacteria which can lodge below the gum line to create periodontal (gum) disease and lead to tooth loss. If left unchecked, this oral bacteria can further contribute to the over-stressing of organs by dissemination through the body and potentially causing injury or infection. Poor oral hygiene is implicated as a major cause of premature kidney failure and heart disease in companion animals.
The good news is that the mouths of most companion animals are less prone to oral disease than those of people. Most breeds of dogs and cats have teeth that are widely spaced apart and lack a salivary enzyme in the mouth that starts the digestion of starch which contributes to the tooth decay many people experience. The bad news is that bacteria still flourishes and plaque still forms and nothing short of regular brushing will reduce its buildup and the attendant adversity to health. No hard food products, rinses, water additives, or dental-type toys can effectively replace brushing to rid the mouth of bacteria below the gum line.
If dogs and cats are conditioned early in their lives to regular tooth brushing, the activity is more easily accepted, and in some cases even enjoyed. Many owners, due to lack of companion animal healthcare education or indifference, miss the opportunity to condition their young companions to such preventative oral hygiene measures and become overwhelmed when the adult companion objects to having a brush placed in its mouth. Then it becomes a wrestling match which the companion usually wins. But, in the long run there are two losers, the companion and the owner both really lose since the animals life-span will be reduced, and the owner will encounter additional expenses that could have been prevented. Expenses that may be avoided or reduced include dentistry procedures requiring general anesthesia, tooth extractions, antibiotics to treat oral infection, as well as special diets and medication resulting from kidney and/or heart disease.
Brush properly and frequently is the advice all veterinarians should be giving their clients.
In years past, fleas and ticks were just accepted as one of the given factors of owning a dog or cat. In the more recent past, certain products were developed to control these parasites through sprays, dips, or chemically impregnated plastic collars. Today, a variety of pharmaceutical manufacturers have not only come to the conclusion that companion animals are big business, but that the control/elimination of fleas and ticks on companions is highly profitable to them. Thus, significant efforts have been undertaken by pharmaceutical companies in research, development, testing, evaluation and manufacturing resulting in the market being flooded with several dozen flea/tick products of varying effectiveness.
Mail order catalogues, pet superstores, and veterinarians all have various products that have been developed to control or eradicate these external parasites from dogs and cats. But as each new product competes to entice an owner's purchase of it to the exclusion of all other products, consumer/owners are at a loss for making an informed decision. Even if an average owner collected all the product and pricing information on the flea/tick products available, there is little likelihood that an optimal decision could be made. The only true way an owner is able to obtain a product that is effective, safe, and of value is to rely upon the advice of a competent veterinarian whose interests are in the long-term health of the companion animal.
Today, the most effective products available for flea/tick control include those which prevent flea eggs from reaching maturity (insect growth regulators -- IGRs), those that sterilize fleas so no fertile eggs are produced, and topical products that kill adult fleas and ticks (adulticides). One or a combination of these products provide the most cost-effective, efficacious and safest protocol for specified external parasite control currently available to companion animals and their owners.
The term "mangy" is a descriptive colloquialism for an individual whose external appearance is deplorable. The term conveys contempt and scorn, and implies low self-esteem and poor personal hygiene. "Mangy" is derived from the communicable skin disease "mange," which indeed causes the skin of domestic animals afflicted with it to appear ill-kept patchy hair loss, crusty skin, epidermal sores. The disease is caused by various types of minute parasites called mites which burrow under the skin and cause irritation.
One of the most serious types of mange is called sarcoptic mange after the microscopic mite that causes it (genus Sarcoptes). This type of mange is insidious because the mites live in the hair follicles below the skin surface feeding on blood and reproducing where they are difficult to detect. Because of the widespread irritation caused by these rapidly multiplying mites and the attendant intense scratching and biting reaction of the companion animals who serve as their host, "hot spots," secondary infections, and compromises to the immune system can result. Owners can easily confuse mange with flea bite or allergic reactions, but veterinary examinations including through skin scrapings and microscopic examination can isolate the cause. It is important to note that sarcoptic mange is transmissible to humans causing an equally irritating, although generally short-lived disease called scabies.
It is not normal for any companion animal to continually scratch or bite itself. There is always a reason for such abnormal behavior. Veterinarians can diagnose and prescribe treatment for most parasitic and dermatologic conditions before severe damage is caused, but only if a diligent owner monitors the behavioral signs of their companion animal and understands that any abnormality is cause for scheduling a professional consultation.
Just like humans, the companion animal body contains glands comprised of specialized cells that secrete chemical substances into the blood; these are called endocrine glands. The normal operation of these glands is critical to the function of the body and malfunction causes dramatic changes. Endocrine glands secrete hormones directly into the circulatory system and elicit a physiological response from other cells. The thyroid gland is such a gland. Weighing only a fraction of an ounce, and located beside the trachea on the underside of a companion animals neck, it is a major software element of the body and provides critical instructions affecting many physical and chemical processes involved in maintaining the body. The thyroid controls the bodys metabolism. As glitches can develop in mass produced computer software, the bodys software can go awry on an individual basis due to genetics and external influences such as diet, disease, and injury.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when an overactive thyroid gland produces too much hormone. This causes the body to go into overdrive causing an acceleration of almost all biological activities. Symptoms frequently include weight loss even though accompanied by increased appetite, diarrhea, faster heart rate, sleeplessness, anxiety, tremors, inability to tolerate heat, difficulty in focusing the eyes and protruding eyeballs. Diagnosis is through blood testing for hormone levels. Treatment is through pharmaceuticals, radioactive iodine treatment, or surgery. If left untreated heart failure will result. Hyperthyroidism is prevalent in cats and rare in dogs.
Hypothyroidism occurs when an under-active thyroid gland produces too little hormone. Biological activities slow. Dogs have a greater tendency to develop an under-active thyroid condition than an overactive gland. In many instances hypothyroidism is genetically linked. In canines, members of specific breed groupings have a high propensity for hypothyroidism sporting dogs, working dogs, herding dogs, and terriers. Symptoms frequently include excessive sleep accompanied by fatigue, lower body temperature, slowed heart rate, weight gain, dry skin, swollen eyelids, loss of hearing, premature graying of the hair and hair loss. Diagnosis is through blood testing for hormone levels. Treatment is through pharmaceuticals which may be necessary throughout life. If left untreated, death will ensue.
Thyroid disorders are as treatable in companion animals as they are in people if diagnosed during their early stages. Annual veterinary examinations form a basis of information to detect trends that might be missed by most owners but which will lead a veterinarian to early diagnosis and treatment.
Two anal sacs house hundreds of tiny anal glands and serve as repositories for the fluid the glands manufacture. They are small, hollow receptacles located just under the skin on either side of the anus at the eight and four oclock positions. A short hollow tube called a duct from each anal sac acts as a conduit for the anal glands secretion to be transported outside of the body at the anal ring. Anal sacs are vestigial (obsolete) organs like a humans appendix, and no longer serve a known, useful function for companion animals who still retain them. In distant times past they were probably used by wolves to scent-mark territories, and may have served as a defensive repellent under conditions of fright to ward off close contact from enemies in the manner similar to that which skunks have perfected on a much more celebrated scale.
While the presence of anal sacs in modern companion animals seems quite useless, the glands do, however, still produce small amounts of odiferous fluid to store in their sac housing. As most companion animals are unable to voluntarily express their sacs as their ancestors did in the past, stored fluid can build up, sometimes becoming solidified, with impaction, infection, or rupture possible. Some breeds of dogs are more affected with anal sac problems than others. Cats are inclined to have anal sac problems too, but not with as much frequency as dogs.
Dogs with anal sac problems may exhibit such symptoms as scooting or dragging their anal areas across the floor, excessive licking under the tail, accompanied by a foul smelling, sometimes swollen anal area. Dogs prone to anal sac problems should have their anal sacs periodically emptied (expressed) as necessary to avoid fluid build-up complications. Few owners actually express their companions sacs due to both lack of practical knowledge and the distasteful aspects of this intimate health maintenance duty. Annual physical exams are an excellent time to check the status of the anal sac and to receive instruction concerning this procedure from the veterinarian. If problems caused by the anal sacs are continual and severe, surgically removal is possible. A caveat about removal is the possible damage that could occur to nerves of the anus and resultant incontinence.
Pet health insurance helps to pay medical bills through an insurance company's pool of premiums received from insured pet owners and then paid out in certain amounts under provisions prescribed in its policy. Like all businesses, insurance companies are in business to make money. They market their programs effectively and creatively. They calculatedly "bet" that their pool of premiums will always exceed their pay-outs.
For some companion animal owners who do not have the financial means to accept the high costs of certain catastrophic illnesses or injuries, certain types of pet health insurance may provide a level of comfort. But for all owners it is important to know that pet health insurance is seldom similar to human health insurance except for the word "insurance." Many pet health insurance policies severely limit their coverage. In many cases genetic disorders are excluded. This means that if certain medical problems are known to exist within a breed, those problems will probably not be covered. Owners should not expect $3,000 hip replacement procedures to be covered for most large breeds prone to hip dysplasia, or reimbursements for medically necessary eye surgery in Shar Peis, diabetes treatment for Miniature Schnauzers, cancer therapy for Great Danes the list goes on and on. Even when an accidental injury is covered, there may be severe limitations to procedures authorized, veterinarians approved, or amounts reimbursable. Unlike human health insurance which is significantly funded/subsidized by governmental and corporate contributions, pet health insurance is entirely funded by premiums of policy holders.
Any owner desiring health insurance for their companion animal is advised to be aware of what they may receive for what they will pay. Coverage and payments for injuries and illnesses could be significantly less than what most owners believe are acceptable. Less than 1% of all companion animal owners have pet insurance policies.
The United States healthcare system for both humans and companion animals is founded upon the practice of scientifically-based, clinically-tested, conventional medicine, or more succinctly termed "Western medicine." Western medicine is proof based. It is the customary, prevailing, normally accepted standard that is predominantly taught at our medical schools, found in our hospitals, and covered under our health insurance policies. Any other type of medical practice diverging from that standard is viewed as unconventional, unorthodox, or alternative. Unfortunately, many Western medical practitioners disdain alternative practices of medicine due to skepticism, ignorance, or fear of the unconventional.
Conventional practitioners all too easily forget that modern Western medicine is actually an offshoot of yesteryears traditional medicine. Western medicine incorporates roots from many aspects of alternative modalities. But regardless of how successful Western medicine is, its methods and therapies are not effective for all of its patients all of the time. Certain branches of alternative medicine have advanced and have clinically been proven to be safe and effective for particular illnesses. While many veterinarians exclusively practice Western medicine, those who are knowledgeable of the broad-based nature of the discipline of medicine have little problem pursuing alternative modalities if or when a patients condition is not responding to Western modern medical therapy. Owners will be well cautioned, though, to remember that dogs are not simply "little people" and therefore practitioners of veterinary alternative medicine should also be licensed veterinarians in order to best serve the needs of their companion animal.
What's normal behavior and what's not normal behavior is the most important thing every owner should know. Dogs, for example, can't say: "Hey, Boss, I've got this problem." Being observant of typical behavior alerts the wise owner to when unusual behavior is present.
Eating habits, elimination habits, social interactions with other pets and human family members, play behavior, sleeping and resting patterns, and response to normal stimuli, all give clues that all is alright or that something's probably wrong. For example, if your dog loves its food and wolfs down each meal you give it, then one day spurns its normal dinner-time meal, think about calling your vet. But then, if your dog turns away again from the next day's breakfast, definitely call your vet for an immediate appointment. There's something wrong. The dog is telling you so.
Today, identifying a lost dog or cat by scanning for a microchip has become a common practice among veterinarians and animal shelters. Ten or twenty years ago, this was not the case. Advancements in technology, competition in the market place, and scanning commonality have made microchips much more widely accepted and cost-effective.
A microchip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, is implanted with a special syringe by a veterinarian just below the skin at the back of the neck between the shoulder blades of an animal. The chip uses passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). The chip has no internal power, remains inert until interrogated by non-contact electromagnetic fields from a scanner to which a data transfer is made.
After the chip is implanted, the veterinarian records the unique ID of the chip and performs a scan test to verify its operation. The chip's ID along with owner's contact information, pet's name and description, etc., is then sent to a registery which provides 24/7 toll free telephone information service.
For a modest fee, an owner will essentially have proof of ownership of the animal and have piece of mind that if the animal is ever lost, there will be a greater likelihood of an owner/pet reunion.
Veterinary medicine is the branch of science that generally deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, disorder and injury of animals. Veterinarians, as practitioners of this branch of science, are trained and authorized to treat all animals, the only exception being humans. The largest numbers of veterinarians (54,000) are found in private clinical practice. And most of private practitioners limit their activities to the treatment of small, companion animals. About 10,000 other veterinarians perform various functions for industry, government and the military in education, research, food animal husbandry, and regulatory affairs.
Whereas most all human doctors are specialists (and sub-specialists) and perfom a narrow range of medical procedures, veterinarians are more often "jacks-of-the-medical-trade". On an average day, the same veterinarian often performs any number of specialty-type medical procedures such as would require the different specialties in human medicine of the anesthesiologist, surgeon, dentist, internist, dermatologist, neurologist, gynecologist, pediatrician, toxicologist, psychiatrist, behaviorist, radiologist, pathologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist...